A short but virtuosic bit of provocation from Darth Troll, especially the “but you have to ask him” bit at the end. He knows that Trump damages himself every time he equivocates about Russian campaign hacking. And he also knows that, of the two of them, only one is willing to answer reporters’ questions at the G20 this weekend — and it ain’t the leader of the free world. By giving this answer, Putin puts Trump in a no-win position: If Trump says he did believe Putin when he insisted that Russia didn’t meddle in the campaign, he looks like Moscow’s useful idiot. If he says he didn’t believe him, Putin gets to feign offense and warn somberly that such mistrust will jeopardize the two countries’ new understanding about Syria.
Trump and Putin, Tillerson announced, “agreed to explore creating a framework around which the two countries can work together to better understand how to deal with these cyber threats.”
A framework for understanding? Not consequences? Not sanctions? Not even the threat of retaliation from the United States?
There is no need for a framework of understanding. Vladimir Putin understands what this diplo-feculence means: The Trump administration will not punish him in any way for his aggressive attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. And we don’t need a framework for understanding to see what that’ll mean for future elections—here and elsewhere: It will happen again.
Molly McKew drew the same inference:
Russia will bear no cost or consequence for its attack on American society. Instead, we will mutually agree not to meddle with each other—validating a longstanding Kremlin lie that unrest in Russia is due to U.S. interference, rather than discontent with Russia’s stagnant economy and shrinking personal freedoms.
To be clear: Putin isn’t going to stop what he is doing—in the U.S. or elsewhere. Kremlin ideologues are quite clear that their asymmetric capabilities give them a key advantage against their adversaries, and will be heavily invested in, in a variety of ways. They state openly that their advantage is in these asymmetric means—information, influence and cyber operations; the use of “guerrilla” cells that can carry out activities in Europe and the United States; cyberattacks against critical infrastructure; cultural outreach; and more—and that they will use this means to achieve their goals of undermining NATO and American power.
I doubt Trump’s willingness to look the other way at Russia’s campaign interference is unconditional: So long as Moscow doesn’t embarrass him in Syria and maybe grants the White House a small but showy diplomatic victory now and then, Putin will be absolved. You can call that realpolitik if you like, but (a) realpolitik doesn’t usually involve the leader of one country possibly benefiting electorally from crimes committed by the other and (b) some of Tillerson’s blather yesterday about supposedly overlapping U.S./Russian interests isn’t encouraging. He claimed at one point that the two countries’ “objectives are exactly the same” in Syria, which is true only if you ignore the fact that that country’s Russian puppet leader was bombed by the United States three months ago for gassing civilians. The U.S. wants Assad out, sooner if not later. Russia obviously doesn’t. Even our allegedly common interest in defeating ISIS isn’t as common as it may at first seem. Assad and his allies use the threat from ISIS as a justification for his continued rule, the iron hand that’s keeping the terrorists at bay. The U.S. wants ISIS eradicated, both for its own sake and as a precondition of Assad stepping down. Why would Russia want that?
Putin discusses his Trump meeting in the first 4:30 here. In light of yesterday’s discussion, consider this: What incentive does Russia have to not interfere on Trump’s behalf in the 2020 election? If the worst pain they’re going to suffer for their 2016 shenanigans is a polite talking-to during a private meeting at the G20 then future meddling is a costless exercise at worst. At best, it might earn Trump’s (quiet) gratitude or at the very least place him in an even more awkward political predicament where he seems ever more beholden to Russian active measures in gaining and holding power. Making Trump look like a Russian stooge is all upside for Putin, even if it’s not true. Which, of course, is the whole point of his comments here about Trump supposedly taking him at his word about Russian hacking.